By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
25 Elul 5764 - September 10, 2004
Moshe consummates his task as the “teacher of all Israel” by
transmitting the completed Torah to his people:
And Moshe wrote this Torah, and he gave it to the Kohanim, sons of Levi, who
carry the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem, and to all the elders of Israel (Devarim
In the future, the Children of Israel will be in danger of straying from the
path of the Torah. To remind them, Hashem commands that the song Ha’azinu
(chapter 32) be written:
And now, write for yourselves this song (KITVU LACHEM ET HA’SHIRA HA’ZOT) and
teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their mouths, so that this
song shall be for Me as a witness for the Children of Israel (verse 19).
But when Moshe fulfills this command, it is not only Ha’azinu that he writes:
And it was when Moshe completed writing the words of this Torah in a book in
their entirety (AD TUMAM), that Moshe commanded the Levites, those who carry
the Ark of Hashem’s Covenant, saying, “Take this book of the Torah and place
it alongside the Ark of Hashem your G-d’s Covenant. And it shall be there as a
witness for you” (verses 24-26).
He proceeds to teach the people as Hashem commanded, but again
the text reverts to Ha’azinu:
And Moshe spoke in the ears of the whole congregation of Israel the words of
this song in their entirety (AD TUMAM) (verse 30).
For 40 years, Moshe wrote down the Torah one section at a time (see Gittin 60b).
Now when Hashem says, “write for yourselves this song”, it is tantamount to
“Finish the Torah,” because the song is the finishing touch. The terms this song
and this Torah are interchangeable; by writing the end of the Torah, Moshe has
in effect written the whole Torah. [The instruction write for yourselves this
song is thus an example of a self-referential statement, a concept which Douglas
R. Hofstadter explores in Metamagical Themas.]
Our Sages understood that KITVU LACHEM, though in the plural, is addressed to
Rabba said, “Even though one’s fathers bequeathed him a Torah scroll, it is a
commandment for him to write one of his own, as it says, ‘And now, write for
yourselves this song’” (Sanhedrin 21b; see also Nedarim 38a).
This is the 613th mitzvah (Rambam, Book of the Commandments, Positive
Commandment § 18; Sefer HaChinuch, ascribed to either R. Aharon HaLevi or R.
Pinchas HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th Century). Rambam (“Laws of Writing
Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah”, 7:1) explains:
“There is a positive commandment for each and every man in Israel to write a
Torah scroll for himself, as it says, “And now, write for yourselves this song.”
This means to say, “Write for yourselves a Torah which contains this song,”
because one does not write the Torah in separate sections. And even if his
ancestors left him a Torah scroll it is a commandment to write his own. If he
wrote it with his own hand, it is as if he received it at Mount Sinai; but if he
does not know how to write, others write for him. Anyone who corrects a Torah
scroll -- even one letter – it is as if he wrote all of it.”
Torah Temimah (R. Baruch ben Yechiel Michel HaLevi Epstein, 1860-1942) insists
that the mitzvah to write one’s own Torah scroll is not derived from LACHEM, for
yourselves – implying a duty to own (as in the case of the four species on
Sukkot) – for then there should be no problem with inheritance. Rather, the
source is KITVU, write. The purpose of this mitzvah is to increase the number of
Torah scrolls in existence, thereby disseminating Torah study. This goal could
not be accomplished by merely passing the same scrolls down from generation to
Rav Joseph B. Soloveichik (1903-1993) in Shiurim leZecher Abba Mari, z”l (vol.
I, p. 240 ff.) posits two concepts in connection with the Written Torah:
1) An item (cheftza) of Written Torah.
2) The sanctity of a Torah scroll.
The first derives from the verse
And Hashem said to Moshe, “Write for yourself these words” (Shemot 34:27).
At that point, the Torah was not yet complete, so it could not have referred to
the creation of a whole Torah scroll. But, it did establish certain laws of the
Written Torah, such as:
a) “Matters that are in writing [i.e., citations from the Written Torah] may not
be said by heart” (Gittin 60b).
b) The requirement to score straight lines before writing a Biblical quote (see
The second concept derives from:
And Moshe wrote this Torah, … And it was when Moshe completed writing the words
of this Torah in a book in their entirety (31: 9,24).
An incomplete Torah scroll is an inherent contradiction — it is invalid and
lacks the sanctity of a sefer Torah. Consequently, one does not fulfill the
613th mitzvah therewith, nor do we read from it in public or use it in court to
adjure one who must swear.
The words of the sefer Torah are written AD TUMAM (literally, “until their
completing”), from the verb root T-M-M. Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel
Michael, 1809-1877) in his Biblical dictionary, Yair Or differentiates between
K-L-H (stopping, even though more can be done) and T-M-M (completing, because no
more can be done):
Finished (KALLU) are the prayers of David son of Yishai (Tehillim 72:20);
David has stopped composing prayers, but the praises of Hashem are never
…completed (TAMU) are the words of Iyov (Iyov 31:40)
because there is nothing more to add.
The Torah which began with the world’s creation, concluded in terms of K-L-H:
And the heavens and the earth and all their host were finished (VAYECHULU) (Bereishit
Creation ended but is not complete, because man must perfect it.
The Torah, on the other hand, is written AD TUMAM. It is perfect in itself, and
must continue be replicated and taught forever.
"Ain Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from
Concerning the future redemption of the Jewish people from their exile,
Moshe prophesies (Devarim 30:3): “Then the Lord your God will return (veshav)
your captivity [ie those from among you who have been captured], and
have compassion upon you, and will
return (veshav) and gather you from all the nations among whom your God
has scattered you.” Even a most perfunctory reading of the text catches
the obvious misuse of the Hebrew term “veshav.” Quoting the Talmud (Megillah
29a), Rashi points out that the appropriate form of the word is the
causative “veheshiv” – “and He shall bring back.” Instead Moshe uses the
simple form “veshav” – “and He shall return,” i.e., God Himself shall
return. The problematic word “veshav” is found not once, but twice in
Rashi explains each of the two occurrences. As for the first “veshav,”
Rashi cites the answer suggested by the Gemara: “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
teaches: Come and see how beloved are the children of Israel before the
Almighty. For every destination whereto they were exiled, the Divine
Presence was also exiled. So too, only when they shall be redeemed,
shall God himself be redeemed.” The Talmud and Rashi understand the word
“et” as a preposition, “with.” Moshe is not saying that God will return
your captivity, but rather that God Himself will return together with
Rashi’s creative genius bursts forth in his interpretation of the second
“veshav”: “Moreover, so great an event albeit so fraught with hardship
is the ingathering of the dispersed, that God Himself takes hold of each
returnee’s hand to accompany him from his place.”
What a magnificent description of each modern oleh’s journey to Israel.
As he descends the staircase from the plane, not only is he redeeming
his children, grandchildren and generations beyond, but he is returning
together with God Almighty Himself.
Rabbi Sender Shizgal
Director of Public relations and coordinator of special projects, Mosad
Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American
Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting
the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send emissaries –
Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours throughout the U.S.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254